How to Organize Your Work [or Figure out what to do first!]

Prioritizing for Executive and Administrative Assistants

I have been training and working with executive assistants and administrative professionals for 30 years. The question I am most frequently asked is, “How do I prioritize my workload?” Everything handed to me seems to be urgent. When my manager or another person gives me an assignment or task, I am often told that they need it as soon as possible.

Here’s how to organize your work and get the most important stuff done first.

First, that is not reasonable. You cannot do everything at the same time. You must decide what is important and urgent vs. what is less important and can really wait. But you are not the only one with this dilemma. Every business professional must daily assess, hour by hour, what must get done.

Here are a few ideas.


¨      Ask for specific deadlines – not simply “ASAP.” Ask people, “By when do you need this?” or “What is the latest I can get this to you?” (Do not ask “How soon do you need this?” because most people will tell you as soon as possible. By asking them the other questions, you will get a different answer.

¨      Early in the day, clarify with each person you support, what the most important priority is (or even do this the night before).

¨      Make deadlines public information. This is especially important if you support more than one manager. This way, they will all see what is on your plate and be more understanding if their project is delayed.

¨      Start a log sheet. (Share with others on your team or anyone involved in different aspects of a project.)

¨      Make your own decision and stand by it.

¨      Make a “to do” list and estimate time for each item.


Establishing Priorities:

A   —  This item is of extreme importance.

B   —  This item is important, but could wait until tomorrow, if absolutely necessary.

C   —  This item would be nice to complete, but it’s not absolutely necessary.

1.    Categorize tasks into A, B or C. (You don’t have to write a list! Prioritize in your mind and place items in your “to do” folder or tray.)

2.    Then take the A priorities and decide which is the most important item – the one task that must be done today. That becomes A1, the next most important would be A2, and so forth.

3.    Always work on the A priorities before going to B or C priorities.

Be sure to confirm with your manager their definition of an “A” priority vs. a “B” priority. For me, “A” means it must be done today. “B” is in the next 48 hours.


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